Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Bunk and debunk

I'm all for casting a gimlet eye at popular myths and calling bullshit. But sometimes the skeptics replace one load of bullshit with another. (Yes, even me.) The life lesson is to read carefully always.

Here's a case where self-appointed bullshit detectors may not effect a net reduction in bullshit. Eleven myths? Let's see how these doctors did.

  1. Everyone with half a brain knows that viruses cause colds, but here's another repetition of medicine's favored myth: Maybe cold season is a result of people staying indoors in close quarters. Uh, bullshit! We're inside all the time year round. There's no doubt that the correlation of cold, damp weather with colds and flu is real. Medical science has no satisfactory explanation for that fact. Besides, if medicine had to give up correlation as a proxy, however poor, for causation, hardly any drugs could be deemed proven.
  2. Lack of efficacy of antibiotics against a green-mucus symptom doesn't speak one way or another to the existence of a sinus infection.
  3. When your feet are cold, put on your hat - one of my favorite maxims. It's still true, even if the 30% number deserves skepticism. Lots of people go bareheaded in winter. We also know that the brain is an energy-intensive organ.
  4. O.K. Milk makes you acutely phlegmy, but a little water should take care of that.
  5. Yep, well-known debunking.
  6. Hey, I never heard that one. Of course, the authors make a value judgement, and it's important to distinguish that from their evidence.
  7. O.K., fine. But married people who aren't having sex still can make a rational choice to try single sex again. No one faces this decision as a decision about aggregates. On average, I'm happy? Yeah, sure, I reason that way about my life.
  8. Kids are wild without the help of sugar-hype. Who knew!
  9. The desirability of bowel regularity is a half-truth because it's not required by a medical definition. That's as circular as a draining toilet.
  10. Physicians are very defensive about germ theory. People don't double dip because they think it's hygienic. They do it because they think they can get away with it. Mostly, they can (though, please don't).
  11. The study of the 5 second rule in fact showed that the faster you pick up your morsel, the less contaminated it is. An intelligent judgement should be relative: What's the threshold above which a reasonable immune system can't handle those bacteria? How much does a cleanish floor differ from a cleanish countertop? But no one who drops a cookie in the bathroom should eat it.
I won't pretend to score this up or down. The devil's in the details.

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